World Food Program delivers food in Sudan

News and Press Release
Originally published
By KARIN DAVIES Associated Press Writer

LOKICHOKIO, Kenya (AP) -- A cargo plane roars up from the runway, above sunburned foreigners and nomadic cattle herders, to carry food to the famished victims of Sudan's civil war.

Lokichokio, an odd boom town in the harsh, dry border region between Kenya and southern Sudan, is the staging area for the World Food Program's effort to help the victims of the world's longest running war. It is the last link in a complex chain of events that must be executed and timed perfectly to feed hungry millions.

A foot-dragging donor nation, a storm at sea, a washed-out road can slow deliveries.But a political tiff can nearly stop them: Sudan's government has barred the U.N. aid agency from using hefty C-130 Hercules cargo planes to fly in food, cutting deliveries by 70 percent.

The World Food Program now must sent in food on a De Havilland Buffalo, which is much smaller than a C-130. In May, the WFP had expected to deliver 3,200 tons, but was able to supply only 350 tons. The Sudanese government views the program's work in rebel-held areas as feeding the enemy and it also is suspicious of flights in general. A year ago, it alleged that a Hercules, which was not used by WFP, was dropping ammunition and weapons to rebels in southern Sudan. Some outsiders agree that guerrilla leaders in southern Sudan take a share of the imported food to feed their own troops.

Zaka Kuawogai, the Lutheran World Federation's manager of the Kakuma Refugee Camp in northwestern Kenya, estimates 20 percent of the food distributed to the mostly southern Sudanese at the camp is sold to buy arms or trucked to southern Sudan to feed troops.

"Bags and bags of food go by matatu (minibus) to the front lines," he said. A spokeswoman for the World Food Program, Brenda Barton, disagreed that the diversion of food aid is that widespread. The agency believes "it is a bag here or a bag there" that misses its target, she said. "It's such a minuscule amount of food. How can that perpetuate the war?"
Barton said.

Some people argue the agency enables wars to continue by providing food to people in affected regions. "That suggests that if we stopped feeding people, then the men would quit fighting," WFP's executive director, Catherine Bertini, said. "I'm not sure if the men in Bosnia cared if the women and children ate."

As it is, the agency estimates it provides just 5 percent of the food needs of the 1.7 million most needy people in southern Sudan. Most of the food aid is needed now, during the traditional "hunger gap" when southern Sudanese have used the last of their carefully hoarded grain to plant crops that will not be ready to harvest for months. Dozens of WFP workers venture into the southern Sudan, often trudging for days on foot, to visit individual communities to find out what kinds of food are needed and who needs it most.

"Fortunately, there are a lot of very dedicated people who are willing to work in dangerous situations," Bertini said, alluding to the fact that 43 foreigners were kidnapping in southern Sudan last year. WFP used to work with tribal chiefs, but found they distributed aid from the top down and the food sometimes did not reach the most needy, said Pippa Coutts, an agency worker. She said WFP now mostly works with average women, who have proved to be the best judges of who is at risk of

For this year, the WFP has asked for $40.3 million to buy and transport food for the southern Sudan operation. It costs about $800 a ton to fly food into the region, which is about the size of France and has only 25 miles of paved roads.

The job of raising money falls largely on Bertini, a former director of U.S. food assistance programs who is now based at WFP headquarters in Rome. "Sudan is not in the papers everyday, and we're not fully funded," Bertini said during a visit to the WFP operation at Lokichokio. More generally, an increasing number of countries have their own budget crises and are cutting or delaying aid donations. "We're having to learn to juggle our funds," she said. "The biggest area of shortfall for us is not emergencies, not refugees, not overhead, it's development," Bertini added.

Such projects include demobilizing soldiers, removing mines from once productive farmland, resettling refugees and using food-for-work programs to rebuild the roads, bridges and markets on which agricultural growth and economic recovery will depend."If we are able to invest more in development, then we can help prevent hunger," Bertini said.

Some facts about world hunger, according to U.N. World Food Program:

THE HUNGRY: About 800 million people are malnourished; 2 billion more lack essential nutrients such as iodine, vitamin A. WFP spent $1.2 billion to feed 50 million people in 1995.

WHERE: Most hungry people are in southern and eastern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. More than 40 percent of people in sub-Saharan Africa chronically undernourished, largely because of conflicts.

FOOD AID: Has dropped from record 15 million tons in 1992-93 to anticipated 8 million tons for 1995-96. If food aid alone were used to bring world's malnourished to desired nutritional level, 55 million tons would be required by 2010.

SOURCES OF AID: No longer mainly means of disposing industrial nations' surpluses. Increasingly provided through cash purchases of food in developing countries, financed from tight aid budgets in which food must compete with other forms of development assistance.

Copyright 1996. The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.